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The essential importance of provenance...,
This review is from: Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (Paperback)
An English friend involved in archeology introduced me to the concept of the essential importance of the provenance of an artifact in determining its significance. The artifact must be viewed within the context in which it was found, otherwise it is meaningless. The provenance of an idol, involving a sad practical joke, and deeper Oedipal emotions is the heart of Wilson's novel. This one joke reverberated throughout the English medievalist academic world for 50 years, and one reflects on the old aphorism that the quarrels in academia are so bitter because the stakes are often so trivial. Was it of any significance to anyone that a famous 7th Century bishop might have backslide into apostasy?
Perhaps the provenance of the idol is a useful metaphor for examining English society in the mid-50's. The significant cast of characters, drawn from a broad swath of that society, act out their fates based on their own location within the society. Yet there will always be some upward mobility, as well as some backsliding for the schemers. The relationships between men and women are universally sad, with a dominant driving force being "accommodation."
Wilson is an excellent writer, and it was a delight to read his historical slice of England, wry humor and all. I thought of the early days of the Internet, slow modem connections, the downloading of pictures, pixels at a time, first one rough pass, then another, finally the entire picture comes into sharper focus. Wilson writes in that fashion, a rough pass, a hint of something deeper, and then he returns over the events, and the picture deepens and intensifies.
Such novels are vital for the perspective they bring to the present, how some things truly are new, but mainly, much is repetition of the same human drama, with all its aspirations and flaws.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on April 24, 2008)